I am a very fortunate person. Besides being blessed with a wonderful wife and family, I get to work for one of the greatest companies and brands in the world, Cisco Systems. One of the best perks of working for Silicon Valley companies in sales is the annual sales conference. Ours (rebranded this year from GSM/GSX to Cisco Impact) was once again a fantastic experience for me and I am leaving Las Vegas energized, proud, and ready to blow out our region quota.
I had two goals going into this week- I wanted to meet two people:
#1 – Kelly Kramer, CFO of Cisco Systems
#2 – Miyuki Suzuki, EVP of Cisco Asia Pacific
As most people who read this blog know, I am going back to school to earn my MBA. It is my stretch goal that about 7 years from now (when my girls have graduated high school and I have finished my MBA) I can get a job in either New York or San Jose doing corporate finance and strategy work – very different from Account Solutions Architect work in Oklahoma. I wanted to meet Kelly and see if she had any advice for me in that career path. I did see her Wednesday night at the Presidio event at Drai nightclub, but I felt that was too loud and not the right time/place for a career advice talk. Probably my loss. I do however have a backfill for that miss – I met and talked with Tom Koppelman (CFO, Americas Sales) at the Americas Advisory Council reception on Monday evening. Tom was generous enough to give me his time and advice. He even sent over John Moses (VP of Americas Partner org) to meet me and pick my brain on Cisco owning state contracts vs partners owning the contracts. It is certainly nice to feel heard at that level.
For the 2nd meeting I did stalk and meet Miyuki after her APJC session (yes, I skipped my own Americas session to do that). Dr Margaret Shaffer of OU is taking about 30 full time MBA students to Singapore this January, and I promised her that I would give a Cisco executive corporate visit in any country on earth she wanted to go to. Miyuki is boss over about 6,000 people and she has a great story to tell about growing up in Australia to leading JetStar Japan to EVP of Cisco Asia-Pac. The students I know will love talking to her about what business in Asia is really like and (they better) give her some feedback, some learning that makes it worth her time. Why I feel so motivated to build a bridge from the OU business side of the house to me I don’t sometimes know when I see the IT side about to deploy a bunch of Aruba APs in the stadium, but I have a deep desire to be a true partner to my customer, not a supplier. I keep plugging away and trust the process.
With those goals out of the way let’s talk overall conference themes. The theme this year was “Be the bridge”. After all that is what Cisco is. We connect. We build bridges of the technical kind. We connect people, ideas even cultures and really move forward the world. It is something to take deep pride in.
This is Eileen. Eileen was one of the 98,000 people on the streets on San Jose homeless. Homelessness in San Jose is a chronic, shameful problem for a city that is so rich, and Chuck Robbins (our CEO) is taking a personal responsibility to do something about it. Cisco built apartments for over 100 individuals like her and gave her a key for the first time, giving her pride. Such a powerful thing we do.
We also celebrate last year’s success at Impact. Last year Cisco grew revenue year/year at +7% — which does not sound like that much, but actually is the best growth since FY12. In fact, this fiscal year we crossed $50B in revenue for the 1st time ever (yea!). We have the largest cybersecurity business in the world, at that’s growing at >+10%. The stock has doubled over the last two years, but really flat over the last year. I do think Cisco stock hits a new all-time high above $80/share sometime in the next 2 years, unless there is a recession. Unfortunately, I am more beginning to believe a recession will happen. This week the 2-10 yield curve inverted. Not good at all. I will feel a lot better after the 2020 elections are over.
We are moving more and more of our business to software. Gerri Elliott’s priorities for FY20:
1) Take market share
2) > 50% of overall revenue from software and services
3) > 66% of software revenue from subscriptions
Now on to fun!
We had Malcom Gladwell come on stage and talk to us. It was one of the more provocative talks I have heard at this conference, and probably will stick out in my mind just below Peter Diamandis’ talk in ~2015. Malcom made a point about weak-link organizations (soccer, medicine, and Henry Rowan) and strong-link organizations (basketball and John Paulson). He talked about how the world needs more weak-link thinking. Interesting. I’m not sure I agree with him, especially in a sales organization. I thought it was funny, even though he pontificated about the world needing more weak-link thinking, he seemed to imply his magazine (the Atlantic) was a strong-link place, and he was the strong link in the magazine.
I found it interesting he was talking about philanthropic giving and he is truly shaping people that can make a difference to the next generation. Chuck Robbins is doing fantastic for the company and he is getting compensated commensurately. Somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million per year. I can easily see after 10 or more years at the company at CEO he will be in a position to donate that $100M gift. And if he chooses strong or weak link, Gladwell will have shaped some small part of that.
Then we brought Sting in. He sang 2 songs unplugged and acoustic (Message in a bottle and Every breath you take). And talked about his passion. I found it interesting that he wrote Message in a bottle back in 1974 and everyday people want him to sing it – how does he keep that passion? How does he keep motivated? He talked about his job being to sing with “the same passion and curiosity” every day. He finds something incremental each time he sings, and it keeps him going. Another Sting quote “We cannot just build a wall around ourselves, we need to bring up the weak-link people”. Seemed to be a theme from all entertainers, and perhaps they are right. I was impressed with the respect Sting showed for his wife and her compassion for women at the border and claiming political and economic asylum.
Then there is this guy from Cisco Japan, who runs a whole marathon in 2 hours 45 minutes. Wow!!
And finally Pitbull.
So this year the closing act was Pitbull. Great show! Even though he did not play Timber, wow – he put on a production with Give me everything and Feel this moment. Fire, compressed CO2, confetti – and fantastic dancing. For a guy he can really move his hips.
So this year I decided I would get to the arena early and get on the front row, both for Gladwell, Sting, and Pitbull. I’m very glad I did. The region manager met and had a dinner that most attended. I’m sure the shrimp was good, but where else can you get a front row seat to talent like above? It is a fantastic opportunity. I’m humbled and thankful to get the experience. I never take for granted the army of people that dress up and serve me at this event. Thank you Cisco!